Each year, as the time comes to conduct the annual performance review of Beaumont Independent School District Superintendent Carrol Thomas, there are rumors it will be his last year in the district. But this year the rumors are much louder, and there’s a twist – Thomas is supposedly shopping a $1 million contract buyout.
An e-mail sent to BISD seeking comment about the rumors was met with the statement, “Dr. Thomas said he has heard nothing about his retirement or any possible buyout.”
But several board members confirmed they’ve heard rumblings that Thomas could be leaving before the end of year; however, the topic of a buyout is something they’re not giving much validity.
“He hasn’t shopped it with me,” Janice Brassard said of the buyout rumor.
Asked if she had heard that Thomas wouldn’t serve out the full five-years of his contract, Brassard said, “At one point, when Rev. (Ollis) Whitaker was on the board, he said he knew when Thomas was planning on retiring, but he wouldn’t say when that was going to be.
“I did ask him about it last year when his wife retired from the district, and he said he didn’t have it in his plans, but that was last spring.”But Thomas told The Examiner three years ago that he would likely retire at the completion of the district’s $388.6 million bond initiative.“He has never directly said that to me, but he had said some things that intimated that would be a good time for him to transition to something else,” Brassard said.
When pressed on the buyout issue, Brassard said, “I don’t believe in paying people for things they haven’t done.”
Those sentiments were shared by board members Tom Neild and Mike Neil, who said they are certain Thomas won’t fulfill the remaining years on his contract.
Neild said if Thomas wants to retire, then he needs to leave. He said the law requires that any buyout be presented to the Texas Education Agency, and the district is penalized when it buys out a superintendent’s contract.
“If we gave him $1 million then it would really be more like $2 million from what I understand because next year the state would withhold $1 million in funding from the district,” Neild said. “With the outlook for public education and funding being what it is, it is not even a possibility to put a buyout on the table.”
“I have heard the rumors before,” Mike Neil said. “I don’t know how much validity there is to them, but someone is talking about it or there wouldn’t be all these rumors out there. I want to put it to rest I am not in favor of a buyout. Honestly, I think someone just pulled it out of their butt. How would someone even come up with that number? But the talk is out in the community so, like I said, someone is talking about it.
“I will say this; I know he is not going to work out his five years that are remaining on his contract.”
Before coming to BISD in 1996, Carrol Thomas sat down at his home in Houston with the then-board president, the late Howard Trahan, to iron out the specifics of his employment contract – a contract that has seen few changes over the years aside from a more than doubling of his base salary to $347,834 annually from $152,800 annually and a reduction in the automatic pay increase he receives from 5 perecent to 3.9 percent.This year Thomas will add to his income another $13,565. Additionally, Thomas is almost guaranteed an extension on his contract, putting BISD on the hook until 2017 unless the board finds Thomas hasn’t done an acceptable job. And based on the evaluation form used to rate Thomas’ service to the district, it is almost impossible to find anything less than a positive review.
“It’s not the toughest performance review I’ve ever seen,” said BISD board president Woodrow Reece, who also said Thomas hadn’t approached him about a buyout. “I probably would not vote for it.”
When asked about Thomas leaving BISD and what the terms might be, Reece said, “I had heard four years ago that he was leaving the district when the bond was complete. It is about 95 percent done. He hasn’t mentioned it to me, and I would hope that he would have the courtesy to do that if he was thinking about leaving. It wouldn’t sit well if I am the last one to hear about it. As you know, I get tired of being the last to know and others having knowledge that I don’t have.
“I want him to tell me that if it is an issue. But nothing would surprise me in this world. He has been here 15 years, and he may do it.”
According to Thomas’ contract, “Following the annual evaluation and review of the superintendent’s performance, the board shall consider in executive session whether this contract should be extended for an additional year or years. Within 15 days after the board has decided not to extend or renew this contract, the board must give the superintendent written notice of its intent not to renew or extend this contract and the specific reasons for its actions. If this is not done, the contract is automatically extended an additional year. The superintendent shall be given a reasonable opportunity to correct any identified deficiencies.
“In the event the district decides not to extend or renew this contract, the superintendent shall be afforded all the rights set forth in the district’s policies and state and federal law.”
In order for the BISD trustees to terminate the contract, it must be done with mutual agreement between Thomas and the board unless the dismissal is for good cause. The contract stipulates “good cause” is limited to only the following circumstances: failure to fulfill duties or responsibilities; incompetence; insubordination; failure to comply with board policy; neglecting duties; use of illegal drugs; drunkenness; possession or being under the influence of alcohol or drugs on school property or during a school sponsored event; felony conviction; a disability not protected by law; immorality; failure to put forth an effort to have a good rapport with parents, faculty, the community and board members unless it is not his fault; assault on a student, trustee or employee; intentional falsification on records or documents; misrepresenting facts to the board or district officials; failure to maintain superintendent certification; and failure to meet requirements of the Texas Education Agency within a reasonable time.
Reece said the board members will make their feelings known next week about Thomas’ performance, and it’s unlikely that Thomas would be denied his annual raise.
“We are going to vote, and if it is a favorable evaluation, he gets a raise,” Reece said. “If not, he won’t get it. It is not very hard to make favorable, but if there are enough ones, twos and threes that have to be subtracted … it’s not impossible, but I don’t think it is going to happen. He has done a lot of good things.”
In the past, Thomas has opted not to take the raise and instead “donate” it to the district for special projects not listed in the general budget. However, it is not clear how that worked as Thomas’ salary continually increased for retirement purposes in accordance with the Texas Teachers’ Retirement System. Thomas did not answer questions about the annual pay increase linked to his performance review.
Reece said the evaluation form used to rate Thomas’ performance contains about 43 questions and uses a “yes” or “no” system in conjunction with a number system from 0 to 5. If Thomas receives an average score of “3,” then he gets a raise and a contract extension.
Brassard questioned Thomas’ evaluation, saying it doesn’t mean much because it was next to impossible to have an overall negative review.“That is something that I have not been happy with since they did it, and I was a BISD employee,” she said. “To me that was a mistake to have a contract like that. When I first got on the board, I tried to get people to vote and change his evaluation documents.
“Let’s say you are mad at him and give him straight zeros, but I think he is the best thing since perforated toilet paper and I give him a 5 on everything, that gives an average of 3. That is acceptable. And in his contract it stipulates acceptable or better qualifies him for a raise. I am against that, and I diligently go through every single item and document why I score something one way or the other.”
Pursuant to Thomas’ contract, in addition to his annual salary he receives a $12,000 supplemental allowance, a district-provided American Express and gasoline card, life and health insurance and the ability to buy back or receive payment for up to 10 of his 20 days of vacation. At a daily rate of $1,581.06 combined with the other perks Thomas’ salary is bumped to more than $375,644 per year. His new salary following next week’s board meeting will be $389,209.
Tom Neild said he planned on addressing the wording in Thomas’ contract at the next meeting of the BISD school board Thursday, Jan. 19, at 7 p.m.
“Where else in industry have you heard of anyone being guaranteed automatic raises?” Neild said. “Do we do it for teachers or other employees in the district? I call it a primadona contract. Who else gets raises like that?”
Jerry Jordan can be reached at (409) 498-1074, or at jerry [at] theexaminer [dot] com.